Monday, June 30, 2008

Training People

This weekend I got into a discussion about trainers and training methods with some other horse people. It got rather heated because I am a strong proponent of the Parelli method. I believe in it because it is designed to train people.

The old saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life." holds true when it comes to animal training. The following story is how I learned this important fact. Warning you may need something handy to blow your nose on during and after reading it.

First Client

I opened for business as a horse trainer in the late sixties. My first client was a big Appaloosa mare that was "stubborn" and wouldn't canter for her owner. Since I had been working for an Appaloosa breeder for the past three years I approached the project with confidence.

Within the month I had the mare walking, jogging, cantering, neck-reining, doing sliding stops etc. Her owner, who had been on vacation, came back and with some friends tried out his newly trained horse. Since I was working out of a public stable at the time the only control I had was over my horses and equipment.

He proceded to gallop the mare up and down the arena doing slidding stops until her mouth and legs were raw. His friends got on her and blooded her sides using spurs. When they were finished they said I was miracle worker becasue she'd never done that well before.

She stood there, sweating, sides heaving and bloody, and looked at me with eyes that said "I did what you wanted me to. Why are you letting them do this to me? Wasn't I a good girl? What have I done wrong?"

I never trained a horse FOR someone again. Either I trained both horse and rider or I didn't train.

The mare? I didn't have the money to buy her so she ended up at the killers.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Forget training animals, train the people is my motto and I'm one hundred percent behind Pat on this one.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Animal Whisperers

Yesterday I had several discussions involving the rescue, rehabilitation, and recognizing of signals concerning various animals.

The series of discussions began because I was telling various friends and acquaintances about an upcoming event where Pat Parelli and Cesar Millan are going to do some work together. I am really interested in this because I am an admirer of their work.

I hope Cesar takes some pages from Pat’s book and organizes his knowledge in more accessible forms for others to learn from. The greatest contribution to the horse world the Parellis have made in my opinion is that they have taken what they know and broken it down into tiny bits so others can use this knowledge to have positive results with their own horses even if they don’t have direct access to Pat or Linda. They also organized a training program so that now, regardless of what part of the country you are in you can find a professional who knows how to use these methods to help you and your horse.

All that being said I’m going to put in my two cents worth about the term whisperer. It is bandied about a lot since a certain book appeared a decade or so ago. The problem with the word or term if you will is that it implies the person has some special secret language that he or she speaks to animals with. In a way this is true.

The real secret though about “whisperering” isn’t that the trainer or tamer is speaking, but rather that she is listening. Listening to what the animal is saying. Most people don’t realize that even humans have a rich vocabulary when it comes to body language. Animals have an incredibly huge vocabulary.

People who are really good at various occupations that involve dealing with large numbers of people know this and use it to improve their success. Successful animal trainers learn to “read” not only the animals they train, but the people involved with those animals.

In my persona as the Lazy Trainer I’ve been reviewing my “whispering” skills with my horses, cats and dogs; trying to analyze those skills so I can tell others exactly how to acquire them and effectively use them.

The first and most important key to being successful is the ability accurately read an animal’s body language. One time I was called in to work with an extremely “aggressive” gelding. He would attack anyone trying to enter his pen or even if they got near it. His owner, trainer and the stable manager all said he was a very dominant horse that wanted to be in control of everyone and everything.

When I got my first view of the horse my reading was he was a horse scared out of his wits. Everything he was doing was in an effort to save his life. Using calm, assertive lead mare body language I approached his pen. Instead of charging the fence he paused, looked at me for a moment, and then retreated to the far side of the pen.

I took my carrot stick with me because, even if he was thinking about the idea I might be a lead mare, that did not mean he wouldn’t try something dangerous. I prefer not to be run over by large (or even small) horses if I can help it. I entered the pen and went to the center. From there I carefully looked all around paying close attention to everything a horse might consider dangerous. When I completed my survey I then turned partially sideways to the horse where I could see him from the corner of my eye and assumed the position of a horse completely comfortable in its surroundings. I dropped the tip of the carrot stick (representing a long neck) to the ground and then “cocked” one hind leg.

The horse watched me for several minutes before taking his first cautious step towards me. However, he told me by his eyes, ears, nostrils, head position, neck position, leg position and body position that he was beginning to accept the idea that I might be “safe.” When he took that first step I gave him a lead mare look that said, “You better be respectful or I’m going to kick you!” He immediately dipped his head in a respectful nod. It took several minutes but eventually he was standing near me. Then I turned and walked back to the gate. He followed with properly lowered head. He had no desire to be in control. That horse really, really wanted to have a leader he could feel safe with.

It took quite awhile and a number of setbacks, but eventually I did get his owner to understand how her body language and the body language of other humans around him had caused this horse to reach such a high state of anxiety. The people who managed the place and the trainer were less willing to learn, so eventually she moved to a stable where the people spoke “horse” and he became a nice willing companion to her.

Being able to read body language fluently means you can stop bad behavior before it even gets to movement. If you wait until movement is involved then you have to work a LOT harder to correct it and that is against the Lazy Trainer’s Creed.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Learn to read your animals’ body language. Learn how to speak to them in body language and you will be on your way to being considered a “whisperer” even though being an animal whisperer has nothing to do with vocal language.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Working here

I have been spending time writing content for various magazines and online publishers lately.

Some of my articles can be seen at Associate Content This link takes you directly to one of my more recent articles. Clicking on my name will take you to other articles I've published at this site.

Okay, back to the old keyboard for more writing.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good News

My friend is doing better. Her mother emailed me to let me know she is improved. Thank you all for your prayers and good thoughts.

Dear Daughter is in Morocco this weekend with her study group. Hope she brings back bunches of pictures.

Here is a wonderful blog, It does carry a hanky warning though. Especially the story about the abused kids and Champ.

Hope you all have a good weekend.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I can get very aggravated with computers. At least I think my problems have been with the computer. It might have had other sources. Ah, well. Maybe I'll stay online long enough to do this.

I just heard that a friend of mine who had a baby last week is having problems retaining water and with fluid in her lungs. Please offer prayers and good thoughts for her and her family.

It is hot and dry around here. I got what I hope is enough hay to last until we get some decent rains. If not then I'll just deal with the problem of feed stuffs when I get there.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Do what you can, when you can, with what you have. This is all any of us can do.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Just how important is a father to a child?

I have great difficulty answering this question because I grew up without one. Did it hurt me? Oh yes! Even as a very young child, before entering school and finding most of the other kids had fathers that stayed with their families, I felt the lack of a father. Uncles and a grandfather did not fill the void.

I see in my own children the difference that results because of the presence of a stable father figure. My son is a good honorable man who in his turn is a good father. My daughter is a strong, confident, independent woman. I believe those traits are directly related to the fact they had two parents to depend on while growing up. Especically a man who was there for them-day in and day out-all the time.

Does this mean any father is better than no father? Not in my opinion. Having met my father in later years (I got a letter from him two weeks before my 30th birthday saying he was now ready to be a father) I can only be grateful he was not a presence while I was growing up. To say he was unstable would be understating the the case by astronomical magnitudes. While the uncles and grandfather did not fill the void they at least provided me with examples of what good fathers should look like and how they should behave.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Perfect isn't necessary to being a good parent. In fact, perfect can really get in the way of accomplishing anything in any field of endeavour. What is necessary to be a good parent is to BE THERE. That is what kids need, someone who is there for them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Feed Costs

Yesterday, I got a load of hay and felt like I got a really good deal on it. Then I went to a special board I like to hang out on and keep track of other horse people. This morning they started a discussion about the cost of hay in various parts of the country. Some were paying prices that made me whimper with envy and others were paying prices that had me glad I'm where I am.

I shared the following with the board that I learned many years ago. Prices are all over the place when it comes to feeding horses and around here droughts usually keep the price of hay pretty high so I learned how to manage my costs and yet keep my horses in good condition.

I bought a scale and tape and started weighing my horses and their feed.

Once I started doing that my feed costs dropped dramatically and yet my horses stayed in good flesh.

I began by feeding two pounds of hay and half-a-pound of hard feed (I like pellets) per hundred pound of horse. This is 20 pound of hay and 5 pounds of pellets for a thousand pound horse. I divide it into two feedings. I turn out during the day (no night turn outs because we have a problem with dogs in this area). My pasture ranges from great to awful depending on season and rain.

I then measure my horses daily and if anyone is gaining or losing too fast I adjust the amounts. My Welsh ponies get one pound of hay per hundred pounds and a handfull of pellets. My DD's Arabian mare gets a pound and a half of hay and a pound of grain per hundred pounds. My gaited horses get two pounds of hay per hundred and a pound of pellets (just one pound period). All are healthy and in good flesh.

I taped them daily and adjusted amounts if I upped their exercise or noticed anyone gaining or losing weight.

Lazy Trainer Tip

The best way to control feed cost is to buy a good scale and tape then use them until you know what each horse really needs to maintain good health and energy levels.

Oh yes, don't forget regular worming and good dental care too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Definition of Lazy

The word lazy is a fairly recent addition to the English language. It entered our language sometime during the 16th century (1500’s) and means idle or slothful. The orgin is uncertain.

The definition following the above one is lazy-tongs, meaning a tool that allows one to get objects beyond arm reach.

Some people use the word lazy to describe anyone who doesn’t do things the way they do them.

I believe there are a number of different types of lazy. There is a type of laziness that means someone isn’t doing a task at all. This may be for any number of reasons; they don’t how to do it, they are afraid of it, they just flat don’t want to do it

There is the type of laziness where someone is trying to avoid an unpleasant task, which is more properly called procrastination. Or procrastination can happen because the person realizes that once she is involved it will be a long time before she can stop doing whatever it is.

There is also the case where someone may appear to be lazy because they are so good at what they do they finish long before anyone else.

There is a smart lazy where someone figures out the best way to do a task. Someone who is really good at what they are doing can make it appear simple, easy, and requiring very little time or effort to accomplish.

Recently I was watching The Dog Whisperer where Cesar Millan was instructing the owner and employees of a grooming shop about handling difficult dogs. At one point the client commented, “That took you thirty minutes to accomplish.” And Cesar shot back “No, it took me thirty-five years.”

Cesar accomplished his miracles by being very quiet, confident and focused on his task. The shop owner was a man who came to the grooming business from the corporate world and was a busy, go-go type. He didn’t realize that by taking the time now to retrain these animals he would save a lot of time in the future. Cesar also suggested that he have a price structure on his lists that told the customers upfront that they were going to be charged for this extra service. All of which made good sense to me.

I have learned over the years to project a quiet, calm, assertive manner around various animals. I am especially good with horses, but I don’t do so badly with cats, dogs, goats, cattle or sheep. I can even sometimes convince wild rabbits, coyotes and other assorted wild animals I am not such a bad person to be near. Sometimes what I'm doing to deal with a difficult animal can appear as if I doing nothing at all with the animal.

I recently worked with a horse that did not respond to the usual ways of "catch-training" in a satisfactory manner. I set up to change his mind by turning the horses into my yard and then sat down in the area I created for my clients to use while I still had a public stable. I had a drink, a book, grooming equipment and a lot of carrots.

I set up a rule that only one horse at a time could be in the area. One by one the rest of the horses came up for grooming and carrots. No one was allowed to drive the others away and no one was allowed to "hog" all the attention.

It took nearly two hours and almost a whole book but finally he sneaked over to see what was going on. I ignored him until he reached out and nudged me. Then I gave him a carrot coin (piece of carrot the size of a quarter in this case) and continued reading until he nudged me again. That time he got a scritch on his neck. It took another hour but evenually I had him groomed and playing an advanced version of the Friendly Game.

Since I spent a lot of that time sitting there with my nose in a book there are horse trainers that would say I was "lazy" yet, when you look at the fact that I groomed six horses, and convinced a difficult people-shy horse to accept handling during that four hour period could you truly call that "lazy?"

I’ve also seen a lot of cases where people set themselves up for a lot of hard work by failing to do something small right at the beginning. Instead of a quick, small correction to prevent a horse, dog or cat from escalating a bad behavior they either don’t see it starting at all or they ignore it hoping it will just go away. Ignoring isn’t going to work. Better to be lazy and take steps to stop the problem in the very beginning.

I can do this with my animals, now if only I could convince myself that this is the best way to do housework; an area I can procrastinate in until the cows come home.

Lazy Trainer Tip

If you have a problem with your horse or dog watch carefully and try to see the very first tiny sign that the behavior you don’t want is starting. As soon as you see it quickly correct the animal. You do this in a quick, quiet manner and do no more than you have to. BUT you do just as much as you have to in order to get the desired effect. If the problem is long standing you may have quite a ruckus on your hands. If it is a dangerous problem find a professional you are comfortable with and respect and work with them to resolve the issue.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back in the day

While in high school I worked for a vet. Among my jobs was feeding animals staying at the clinic as well as the vet's own animals.

He kept an excellent supply of prescription foods for his clients, but never used them for his own animals. This may sound as if he was a cheapskate who didn't want to spend money on his own cats and dog, but in fact he had some good reasons for feeding the way he did.

He believed dogs were really omnivores rather than true carnivores as cats are. Back then dogs were labeled carnivores and fed high amounts of meat sourced products. He believed dogs needed at LOT more fruits, vegetables and grain in their diet than the up scale companies provided. Eventually I came to agree with him. After all it's hard to disagree with someone whose animals habitually live to ages near the ones recorded in the Guiness book of records (wasn't around then, but later...)

For many years now I've followed his policy of feeding "cheap" dog foods. Some of my dogs seem to be overweight, some have looked underweight, but most have lived to be OLD. Those that haven't were either stolen (we lived in an area where someone came through every fall and swiped small purebred dogs) or met with untimely accidents. In one case a seventeen year old dog was digging after a mole and dug under a support pier of our house. The corner of a house landing on you will cut your time on this earth short. We will not discuss the bill to repair the damage to the house.

Currently I have a 21 year old Rat Terrier, Sassy, who has been on the "cheap" diet all her life. Every time she went to the vet I heard "She needs to lose weight. She'll live longer if she carries less weight." The past few times that's been trotted out I've retorted that she is old as dirt now.

When Sassy developed pancereites (sp?) I tried the prescription food but she quit eating entirely. She would have nothing to do with either canned or dried. So I went on a hunt for low fat, low protein dog food. I had to read a LOT of labels but eventually found some brands that contained the low amounts of fat and protein she needed. That was three years ago and she's still perking along on her "cheap" diet.

Lazy Trainer Tip

When we are caring for our animals we want the best for them, but we need to remember the best for them may not be anything close to what is best for humans. Our animals enrich our world and meet a lot of our needs. We need to be sure we return the favor by meeting their critical needs.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Changing the way we see

I had an Email from a friend this morning. She commented on the fact that travel to other countries changes a person's view point so that they don't always look at the world from a solely American view anymore.

I never quite thought about the affect of traveling causing one to see the world from a different view than just that of being an American. I think that may be because I never had that. I went to Mexico any number of times before I ever left Texas to visit another state. After all, it was just a couple of hours drive to Laredo where there were awesome shopping opportunities. It was part of the Christmas experience, just as going to the mills in New Braunsfels to buy material for school clothes was part of the summer time.

I was eleven the first time I went to another state and then we went to California to visit relatives. That meant going through New Mexico and Arizona. While all are unique states they still have the strong Spanish influence that I grew up with.

It was a real eye-opener when I finally did begin traveling in the US. I grew up in a community where I was a minority-nearly all my friends and school mates were of Mexican ancestry. Because the school I went to (Catholic) was one of the first totally integrated ones in the country I also had Asians and Blacks in my classes. When out of thirty students five are "white" three black and two Asian (one Chinese and one Japenese) one grows up thinking of one's self as being "different."

Come to think of it, even though my ancestors came from the British isles and interbred with the various Native people on their way to Texas, I was a minority even among the white students since most whites in my area were of German and Northern European (Polish etc.) extraction.

My first trips to other US states really were eye-openers. The first time I was in a town where there were nothing but whites I felt very uncomfortable. And despite the proof that a majority of Americans are of pale Caucasian descent I still think of myself as a minortiy.

Because of this upbringing I have reached the conclusion that I truly do not understand most Americans. I don't claim to understand any other culture either, but the ordinary white American is just as foreign to me as any group from Europe or the Far East and any points between.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

She's Off

We deposited Dear Daughter at the airport at 5 a.m. and now she's off to study abroad.

We were amazed that she managed to get a whole summer's worth of clothing etc. in only one bag and one carry on. DD has been a life long advocate of carry everything you might even remotely need with you. She packed more stuff for an overnight stay with a friend than she is taking to Europe with her. Of course, Dear Husband thinks he put his back out lifting her one bag into the car.

The grandcats seem to be taking her departure in stride. They've pretty well settled into life here, staking out their postitions for naps, bird watching, ambushes and various other important things to cat life. They have even begun to play with some of the other cats so I think we are good to go for awhile.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guilt Trips

I had a conversation with a woman yesterday that left me, once again, pondering the way I view the world around me. My upbringing, especially my religious upbringing, was eclectic in the extreme. The following comes as close to explaining my mental map as anything.

One time I told a fellow writer about my Baptist/Catholic upbringing. My grandmother took me to the Baptist church. I went to Sunday School, Sunday morning church service, Training Union (this taught us about Baptist beliefs and history) Sunday evening Church, G.A.s (Girls Auxiliary of the Women’s Missionary Union) and Wednesday Prayer meeting.

My mother sent me to a Catholic school because she wanted me to have a better education than I would get in a public school. She was right; I did get a better education, but I was also well taught in the Catholic faith and doctrine.

This upbringing confused the heck out of me because, at the time, the Catholics believed the Baptists were going to hell because they weren’t saved. And the Baptists, equally fervently, believed the Catholics were going to hell because they weren’t saved. Throw in the occasional trips to the Methodist and Lutheran churches with my cousins and I was even more confused. They all professed to believe in God and that Jesus Christ was the son of God. He came to save humans and restore them to fellowship with God. He died for them. He was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. Why were they all snipping at each other? What was the difference?

To add to the confusion some of my mother’s friends were Jewish. When I talked to their kids I got still a different view of God and the Bible. As a teenager I sometimes went to the synagogue with them and there learned still more ways to be confused and baffled by the way humans could get into arguments and fights about worshiping God.

In college I met Buddhists and Muslim students (I was raised in San Antonio Texas which had a language school at Lackland AFB that had people from all over the world attending to learn other languages.) as well as some Atheists. After meeting a number of Atheists and listening to them I concluded Atheism is a religion too, the believers being as adamant as any other believers that their view is the right one.

After listening to my explaination of my background my writer friend said, "I'd pay good money to see one of your guilt trips."

I had to laugh because I have a lot of roads and trails on my map when I do go on one of those guilt trips.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Leaving the Nest

Our place is a haven for wild life. We have trees and plants that provide food and shelter. Water is available, and this is very important during the dry spells that occur so frequently in this part of the world.

Currently we have a barn swallow nest that I can easily see from were I am sitting right now. This particular nest is apparently regarded as prime property. There is always conflict before it
is settled just which couple of Barn Swallows or House Wrens is going to get it.

Right now though there is a different sort of conflict. The first clutch of baby birds have been raised and left the nest. The parents are now started on the second clutch, but the first kids keep trying to move back in. Papa is kept very busy shooing them away. This provides a lot of entertainment for the cats as well as some quality thinking time for me.

I was raised by the "cut the apron strings with one chop" method i.e. You are 18, you finished high school, now it's up to you. I consider this reasonable when one considers my mother was the sole support of her mother (recovering from severe burns in a hotel fire) and siblings when she was 14. I had an extra four years of support that she didn't have.

However, it was a shocking experience and I decided to do things differently. I begin sniping the apron strings one thread at a time. At a certain age I quit trying to do a particular task for my child and left it up to my son or daughter to solve the particular problem. I was available for consultation (as I still am) but only if asked. My goal was to create people who, by the time they were legal adults, could survive, better yet thrive, if we weren't around. It seemed to work.

While we till have our connections I know our children are more than capable of surving on their own and that is probably the best gift one can give to the next generation.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Ouch, ouch, ouch

DD got home to find the old folks had managed to score a Wii Fit.

This morning the Ibuprofen bottle was her first stop. Seems an hour of Wii Fit will do a number on you if you haven't worked up to it.

Since it isn't safe to walk on our roads (70 mph drivers on a 45 mph road) and DH is getting his exercise on a regular basis since we got the gadget I'm pretty pleased with it overall. I tried the fitness club routine several times and it just doesn't work for me. After about four months I quit going and the rest of my year's fees are wasted (or waisted, if you will).

The Wii itself is fun and has been in fairly constant use since we got it last year, but the new board kicks it up a notch and that is good.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Any new exercise program for you or you horse (or dog) is best approached with caution. Begin with fifteen minutes a day and work your way up to avoid a lot of soreness and the chance of stress injuries.